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Airlines Fill Seats with Ease in November, Southwest Leaps Ahead

November airline traffic numbers are out, and they look a lot like October's numbers. With the exception of US Airways (LCC) which saw a very tiny .1 percent decrease in load factor, all the other big guys saw increases. And then there's Southwest (LUV).

Southwest stole the show this month with some very impressive numbers. No, they didn't fill the most seats (that was Allegiant (ALGT) with a 90+ percent performance once again), but they saw the biggest increase by far. Their load factor climbed from a meager 63.2 percent last November to a respectable 76.5 percent this November. That is a tremendous increase of 13.3 points. They've cut their ASMs (see below) by 7.7 percent but their RPMs went up 11.7 percent. Those are numbers to be proud of.

As a reminder, here's what these numbers mean. The basic measure of capacity is the available seat mile (ASM). To figure out your ASMs, you take the number of miles flown and multiply it by the number of seats on board.

Then to get demand, you take number of miles flown and multiply it by the number of seats filled. That will give you revenue passenger miles (RPM). Divide your RPMs by your ASMs and you get your load factor, the percent of ASMs that are carrying people instead of going empty. So here's what we had during the month of November.

Airline ASMs RPMs Load Factor
AirTran 9.2% 10.5% +0.9 pts
Alaska* (5.2%) (2.8%) +2.0 pts
Allegiant 24.6% 25.3% +0.6 pts
American* (4.2%) (0.5%) +3.0 pts
Continental (1.2%) 2.9% +3.2 pts
Delta (8.4%) (7.1%) +1.1 pts
JetBlue 5.3% 7.7% +1.7 pts
Southwest (7.7%) 11.7% +13.3 pts
United (2.7%) 1.8% +3.5 pts
US Airways# (1.4%) (1.6%) -0.1 pts
*Does not include regional operations #Only includes wholly-owned regional subsidiaries

Of course, full planes do not equal profit. We've seen that time and time again, and until revenues start to recover, these numbers are somewhat hollow. Still, it's better to have those seats filled right now.

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